County staff need not be involved in county politics
Unless the community moves quickly to avert it, one of the lasting tragedies of the debate over Natural Heritage 2020 could be politicization of the staff of the Nevada County government.
Those who make policy in the county government are elected officials who answer to the voters. Those who execute those policies, making them reality day by day, are staff members. Confusion of the two roles slashes to the heart of credible government.
In the past couple of weeks, two county staff members – neither of them elected, both of them responsible for the execution of policy rather than the making of policy – have found themselves in the hot seat.
The hottest seat is that occupied by Steve Brown, the county’s code enforcement officer. He’s the fellow whose responsibilities include making sure that the county’s ordinance about political signs – a category which may or may not include “No on NH 2020” signs – is followed.
Also feeling some heat is Airport Manager Gary Petersen, who volunteered a year ago to facilitate an NH 2020 meeting.
Why is it important that staff members keep themselves out of politics? County residents – the owners of the county government – rely on staff members to provide service without fear or favor. County supervisors rely on staff members for counsel and technical expertise and need to be able to trust that the advice is unbiased.
It’s important, too, that the county government avoid any accusations that one political faction or another is given the assistance of county employees’ time.
This requires that elected officials – largely, the Board of Supervisors – make clear statements that no hint of political activity will be acceptable on the job. It requires, too, that elected officials take the heat for political decisions and don’t leave staff members holding the bag.
Opponents of elected officials are doing the right thing when they raise concerns about political activity by staff members. But they also need to focus most of their energies on the elected officials.
Leave the staff out of it – a job that will be easy if the staff stays far away.
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